INDIANAPOLIS -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we wrap up "money day" -- when the quarterbacks, receivers and running backs all run and work out -- at the NFL Scouting Combine....
• While some NFL team doctors may find a 2006 stress fracture in the right tibia of LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey worrisome, it is not widely considered to be an injury that is expected to greatly alter his top-five draft projection. Dorsey's history with the injury is said to not be as big a concern as running back Adrian Peterson's shoulder/clavicle problem was within the league last year at this time.
Dorsey opted to not work out at the combine because he ceased preparing for it recently when his grandmother died. While NFL decision-makers take all injuries seriously when it comes to potential first-round picks, with the large financial stake that they require, league personnel men seem satisfied that Dorsey has successfully played despite the tibia issue for the past two seasons.
"When you're one of the top players people are looking for negatives," Dorsey said Sunday. "They're looking for anything. But I played four years. I played every game since I've been with LSU. Who doesn't get hurt during the year?"
One NFL club executive told me: "He's fine as far as we're concerned. He passed our physical. Our doctors have a good comfort level with Dorsey. He put on a dominating performance in the national championship game, and that was his most recent game. I don't think we're worried about him."
• Arkansas running back Darren McFadden had a superb Sunday and did nothing but strengthen his case for being the premier prospect in the 2008 draft. He did far more than just run well, although his 4.33 time in the 40-yard dash was eye-opening enough (early reports had him as quick as 4.27, but those proved to be inaccurate).
McFadden competed superbly in all facets of his workout, and showed himself to be a complete package. He wasn't just a sprinter showing off his great straight line speed on the playing surface of the RCA Dome. He caught the ball well, showed great explosiveness in everything he did, and impressed scouts with his enthusiasm and approach to his work.
While McFadden still may not go in the draft's top three due to the needs of the team picking up high, he showed himself to be an elite athlete who like Peterson last year may linger on the board longer than he deserves to.
• Contrast the way McFadden attacked his combine opportunity with the approach taken by the draft's consensus top-rated quarterback, Boston College's Matt Ryan. Nobody's saying that it has already hurt his status as a likely top three pick, but there's a sense among some NFL personnel men that Ryan seems to be trying to run out the clock in terms of the scouting season.
Ryan skipped the Senior Bowl last month, and then he was the only top-rated passer who opted not to throw for scouts in Indianapolis (he did all other drills). Instead he'll throw at his pro day workout at Boston College on March 18, where he said he'll be more comfortable working with his complement of Eagles receivers (The irony there is that he didn't have great receivers at BC).
Many feel that the choice not to throw at the combine wasn't Ryan's as much as it was that of his agent, the high-profile Tom Condon. Last year, another first-round quarterback/Condon client, Notre Dame's Brady Quinn, chose not to throw in Indy as well. You could make the case that the decision certainly didn't serve Quinn well come draft day, when he went into freefall, tumbling from the top 10 to No. 22 Cleveland.
"I just wanted to show the scouts what I'd be like in a game-type situation, with guys I know," said Ryan, who as expected turned in a middling time (4.96) in his 40-yard dash. "I can do that best at my pro day."
Although his pro day at Boston College will be well attended, it won't have a bigger audience than the one he passed up on Sunday, when about 700 league scouts were looking on. In the quarterback-starved NFL, maybe it won't wind up hurting Ryan's draft stock a bit. Then again, we're about a month into preparation for the draft, and NFL scouts still haven't seen him throw live since he last wore a Boston College uniform.
• Of the quarterbacks who did take the field and hum the pigskin around, nobody looked better than Delaware's Joe Flacco, whose impressive arm strength was on full display. Flacco, who worked out as part of the first quarterback grouping Sunday morning in the dome, showed good accuracy and the ability to adjust his passes to different receivers.
You can expect Flacco to keep moving up the draft board after his pace-setting combine performance, and I'm hearing that he's now considered a great bet to crack the lower portion of the first round.
"If you said to me before the season that Flacco would be drafted before (Louisville quarterback Brian) Brohm, I would have said you're nuts,'' one veteran AFC personnel man told me late Sunday afternoon. "But now I could definitely see it happening. I could see some team trying really hard to jump back into the late first round to take Flacco."
• McFadden wasn't the only running back who had a great day. All the top running backs chose to work out, and most excelled. Helping himself with a 4.45 time in the 40 was Illinois junior Rashard Mendenhall, whose speed to some was just as impressive as McFadden's given that he weighs 225 pounds.
"I honestly think Mendenhall is one of the elite players in this draft, one of the 10 best," said one AFC personnel man. "He's a sleeping giant. People are just now getting more familiar with him, because he's a junior and we didn't know all that much about him. But he's big, has great feet, and really runs well. He may be one of the top five, six or seven players in this draft, and it wouldn't surprise me if some team picking in the 20s gives up a fortune to come up and get him."
• I know we've already swooned over one small-school quarterback this week in Delaware's Flacco, but we'd be remiss if we didn't at least mention University of San Diego product Josh Johnson. The guy put up mind-boggling numbers at the Division I-AA school, capped by his 43 touchdowns passes and just one interception in 2007. You read that right, a 43-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Are you kidding me?
You can't say it was a complete fluke either, because Johnson had 34 touchdown passes against just five picks in 2006, and 36 touchdowns with eight interceptions in 2005. Add it up and his past three seasons have produced 113 scoring passes and just 14 interceptions. He was also 31-4 as a starter at the school that is forever being confused with San Diego State.
Johnson won the offensive MVP award at the East-West Shrine All-Star Game in Houston last month, and scouts currently have him slated for a third or fourth-round draft slot. New Ravens head coach John Harbaugh is one NFL decision-maker who's both familiar with Johnson and looking for a quarterback. His brother, Jim Harbaugh, coached Johnson at the University of San Diego until leaving to take the Stanford head coaching job in 2007.
Johnson measured 6-2, 213 pounds at the combine, and NFL scouts love his accuracy, his athletic gifts, and his toughness. He didn't have an impressive workout throwing the ball on Sunday, floating several deep passes, but he did run fast (4.55) and jumped 33.5 inches to lead all quarterbacks.
"He threw a bit of a wobbly ball at times," said one NFL personnel man. "But he was accurate in spurts. His ball, I don't know why it floats, but it comes out floating a little. He didn't look great, but he's still an intriguing guy. I can see him in the third or fourth round, being a developmental guy. I know this: I like him better at this point than Tarvares Jackson coming out, and he went in the second round (to Minnesota in 2006). Some of these quarterbacks are going to come off the board higher than people think, because so many teams are desperate for quarterbacks."
Most likely Johnson will go to a team that can afford to wait a couple years for him to fully develop and learn the NFL game. You could see a coach like Tampa Bay's Jon Gruden taking him in the third round, with an eye on grooming him as Jeff Garcia's eventual successor.
• I don't think Sedrick Ellis meant it as anything but a compliment, but when the USC defensive tackle was asked about his experience of working with so many different assistant coaches at Southern Cal, he got off a pretty telling line.
"SC is kind of like a pro program, you know?" Ellis said. "They bring guys in, guys leave when they get better jobs and they come back."
Kind of like a pro program? USC had a combine best dozen players invited to Indy this year, and I'm pretty sure the Trojans could finish second to Seattle if they were in the NFC West.
• While the Ravens almost certainly will draft a quarterback at some point this year, Harbaugh said 2006 Heisman winner Troy Smith "absolutely'' still factors into Baltimore's plans at the position.
"After those last two games (that he started), you've got to feel like Troy Smith can be a quarterback in the NFL, said Harbaugh, of Baltimore's fifth-round pick last year.
• I've decided my immediate goal in life is to be a beat writer for the San Diego Chargers. At least for the next two months, because things don't look like they'll be too busy.
Besides the probability that the Chargers will be all but inactive in free agency, San Diego's picks 27th in the first round, and then doesn't own another draft choice until its selections in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds come around.
The Chargers are due a compensatory pick for losing linebacker Donnie Edwards in free agency last year, and while they're hoping for a fourth-rounder, it could easily be a fifth. Still, it has all the makings for a quiet spring in San Diego.
• Had a short chat with Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt here at the combine. He's fairly optimistic Arizona will work out a new deal in the next week with Pro Bowl receiver Larry Fitzgerald, whose 2008 salary cap number escalates to a gargantuan $16 million due to him hitting some big-time incentive clauses. Whisenhunt also said he can't foresee any likely scenario in which running back Edgerrin James isn't a Cardinal again this season, but given the scope of the cap moves that Arizona has to make before Friday, that didn't sound like a 100 percent guarantee.
The Cardinals will be seeking a running back in the draft, if only to pair with James and handle some of the rushing load. If they land themselves a productive rookie, I wouldn't bet on James being back in Arizona beyond 2008.
• Whisenhunt had a good take on how to fairly evaluate quarterbacks from smaller programs who roll up gaudy statistics, such as Flacco or Johnson:
"You're always going to hear the buzz line about a guy being successful against his level of competition," he said. "But especially at quarterback, you look at physical attributes and how he throws the ball, how he moves in the pocket, and mentally how he seems to handle the position. Some teams put more value and more emphasis on statistics than others, but I've heard the golf analogy a lot too.
"If a guy shoots a 69, you've got to have some respect for the fact he shot a 69, no matter where he was playing. It's still a feat. If you throw for 4,000 yards, it's still an accomplishment you have to take into consideration.''
• The early read on this year's free agency class sounds pretty familiar. It's weak again, because with the salary cap rising significantly for the second consecutive year (from $109 million to $116 million), teams have been able to lock up the majority of the players they care to. The best players get paid to stick around these days, whether it be via the franchise tag or otherwise.
"All your better players have been tagged, so I think the quality is not as good," Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt said. "You can get some players that can help your club, some situational guys that can come in and play for you. But I don't think that's how you build your team. You should be building through the draft.
"Teams are (re-)signing their players earlier in their contracts. You're seeing fewer and fewer Pro Bowl-caliber players in the prime of their career really reach free agency. There aren't any quick fixes in the NFL any more. There were some periods in the '90s and the early 2000's where you could go in and get better pretty quickly. But not any more."
• Weirdest conversation I overheard at the combine this weekend involved Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson at the Capital Grille restaurant Saturday night. Peterson, he of the FM-radio-DJ voice, was standing out near the front door of the place talking to someone on his cell phone, and it sounded like he kept repeating rather excitedly to someone that he had just met Neil Armstrong.
I'm assuming he meant the first astronaut to step foot on the moon, and not the former Bears head coach (who was actually Neill Armstrong). But I could be wrong.
• Sounds like Auburn defensive end Quentin Groves is definitely headed for a 3-4 outside linebacker slot in the NFL. Groves said every team he's met with at the combine has asked him if he's willing to stand up and play outside linebacker.
For the record, he is. Smart guy. Groves must be a quick study to figure which way the prevailing NFL wind was blowing.